Professor Khan has been recently awarded prestigious research exchange funding by Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Tsinghua University ranks 1st in Asia and 12th World Ranking and 9th World Reputation. The collaboration between Professor Khan and Professor Yonggang Meng of Tsinghua University has been in place since 2009-2010 and has resulted in multiple exchange visits and academic achievements. Building on his ongoing collaborative research with Tsinghua University, which is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of PR China and Global Visiting Fellowship Award from Bournemouth University, has led another output which has been accepted for publication in Tribology Letters, a solid quartile one journal in mechanical engineering. This recent collaborative work offers valuable insights into the mechanisms of achieving super low friction in liquid-lubricated sliding point contacts. Its potential applications in various industries and contributions to academic understanding make it a significant endeavour with far-reaching impacts.
The central question being explored by Professors Khan and Meng, along with their research teams, is the key to achieving super low friction in water-based ultralow or super low friction experiments. This question carries significant importance for both academia and industry.
In academia, understanding the factors that influence super low friction can advance our knowledge of friction reduction mechanisms. This research contributes to the academic understanding of this critical field and can serve as a foundation for further investigations.
In the industrial context, the impacts are substantial. Achieving super low friction has the potential to improve the efficiency of mechanical components and reduce energy consumption in various industries. This knowledge will lead to the development of more efficient machinery and systems, saving resources and costs for industries.
Persistent warming at this level will make it difficult for the ocean’s coral reefs to survive. The same goes for those communities who rely on the reefs for food, to protect their coastline from storms and for other sources of income, such as tourism. Recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments have predicted that even if global heating is kept within the most optimistic scenarios, up to two-thirds of all coral reefs could deteriorate over the next few decades.
It will not be possible to restore all the reefs lost to climate change. But we are scientists who study how to preserve these habitats, and we hope that artificial structures (made from concrete or other hard materials) could replicate the complex forms of natural reefs and retain some of the benefits they provide.
We know artificial reefs can attract fish and host high levels of biodiversity – often similar to natural reefs. This is partly due to them providing a hard surface for invertebrates like sponges and corals to grow on. Artificial reefs also offer a complex habitat of crevices, tunnels and other hiding places for species that move around a lot, such as fish, crabs and octopus.
Until now though, scientists were unsure if artificial reefs attracted wildlife which would otherwise live on nearby coral reefs or whether they helped support entirely new communities, enlarging existing populations. This is important, because if natural reefs do die, these artificial structures must be self-sustaining to continue benefiting species, including our own.
Our recent study is the first to examine whether artificial reefs in the tropics can function in the same way as their naturally formed counterparts. The answer is: not yet, but these concrete structures are beginning to mimic some of the key functions of coral reefs – and they should get better at it over time.
Follow the nutrients
Coral reefs support lots of different species in high numbers despite growing in tropical waters low in nutrients (chemicals such as nitrates and phosphates which boost plant growth). This puzzled naturalist Charles Darwin, and it became known as Darwin’s Paradox. We now know reefs achieve this by circulating nutrients extremely rapidly through the invertebrates, corals and fish that live on them.
In a healthy coral reef system, nutrients from dead animals and faeces are rapidly consumed by animals living on the reef, such as small fish or invertebrates, and these small animals are frequently eaten by larger animals. This ensures these nutrients cannot accumulate and so they remain at low levels, preventing algae from overgrowing and smothering the reef.
If artificial reefs perform a similar function to natural reefs then we would expect them to rapidly process nutrients entering the system and keep overall nutrient levels low too. This would indicate they are also highly productive ecosystems, similarly capable of supporting diverse and abundant wildlife even if many natural reefs die.
We tried to make an accurate comparison of natural and artificial reefs by comparing nutrient levels and how they are stored between the two.
From concrete to corals
Our study was conducted in north Bali, Indonesia. A local non-profit, North Bali Reef Conservation, which Zach co-founded, has been making artificial reefs for the last six years with the help of international volunteers and local fishers who use their boats to drop them offshore.
While over 15,000 reefs have been deployed so far, they only cover around 2 hectares – roughly the size of two football pitches.
But these structures are beginning to show signs of functioning like coral reef communities. In water we extracted from just under the sand near the artificial reefs we found high levels of phosphates – evidence of a large number of fish excreting. And in water samples from above the sediment, levels of all the nutrients we measured were low and similar to those recorded on natural reefs, indicating the artificial reef was rapidly recycling these nutrients.
However, the sediment around the concrete structures we tested appeared to be storing less carbon than that surrounding the natural reefs. We think the difference may be related to the relative abundance of invertebrate species such as hydroids (plant-like relatives of corals which feed by sifting detritus from seawater). These were common on the natural reefs we studied, but were only found in small, but increasing numbers on the artificial reefs. We think, as more of these species colonise the concrete over time, the reefs will function even more like their natural counterparts.
The study offers some hope that over time, artificial reefs can mimic more of the processes maintained by natural reefs. Our findings are an early indication that artificial reefs may be able to support local communities affected by reefs lost to climate change.
The climate threat to coral reefs will not be solved by artificial reefs. Only rapidly eliminating emissions of greenhouse gases can preserve a future for these ecosystems. But our research indicates that, where reefs have already been lost, through pollution, destructive fishing or coastal development, it may be possible to restore some of the lost benefits with artificial structures.
Our study suggests it can take up to five years for artificial reefs to begin functioning like coral reefs, so these recovery programmes must begin right away.
Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?
The first major event on this project, a symposium simply labelled as Immersion Forum1, took place on the digital stage on June 26, 2023. This resulted in developing a shared understanding of individual universities approaches and a collaborative picture of educational excellence in digital context.
Session 1, led by Bournemouth University, was delivered by the project PI, Dr. Milena Bobeva, Internationalization Lead of the Bournemouth University Business School, and the Co-I on the BU side, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Gelareh Roushan, Head of the Fusion Learning Innovation and Excellence Center (FLIE). This enlightening session delved into Bournemouth University’s organizational structure, its visionary 2025 strategy, and strategic outcomes. The spotlight was on FLIE, the driving force behind the university’s digital transformation. Dr. Gelareh Roushan provided valuable insights into FLIE’s support for academic staff in designing, delivering, and evaluating exceptional educational practices, using online resources, masterclasses, and bespoke sessions. The effectiveness of the university’s virtual learning environment, Brightspace, was apparent, offering numerous benefits for both staff and students.
Session 2, led by Tra Vinh University (TVU), featured a dynamic team of speakers who unveiled the university’s remarkable strides in digital transformation. Ms. Nguyen Thi Mai Khanh and Mr. Nghi Vinh Khanh, introduced the university’s visionary roadmap, aligning technology with a commitment to educational excellence.
Mr. Nguyen Thai Toan then shared TVU’s innovative Soft Skill Training Management System, a solution that streamlines the management of over 100 courses each month with just three part-time staff members. This efficient approach saves resources, optimizes time, and enhances the learning experience for both educators and students. Ms. Phan Thi Phuong Nam added to the discussion with insights into the Course Assessment Portfolio (CAP) System, addressing the challenges of traditional assessment by digitizing student outcomes data. This move not only simplifies data management but also provides valuable insights for informed decision-making at TVU.
Session 3, presented by British University Vietnam (BUV), featured Dr. Mike Perkins, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Center for Research and Innovation, and Mr. Benjamin Robinson, LMS Curriculum Designer. BUV’s innovative approach to digital transformation was highlighted through the upgrade of its Learning Management System (LMS), enabling a fully blended mode of education. The university’s clever use of familiar tools like Excel empowered academic staff, facilitating the creation of digital courses and improved data utilization. Notably, BUV’s work on a generative AI chatbot, designed to ethically support students, promises to be a significant future advancement.
The closing session, led by the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City (UEH), featured Mr. Huynh Duc, Executive of UEH International Office, and Dr. Vo Ha Quang Dinh, Head of the Department of Information Technology. UEH shared its comprehensive strategy, focusing on eight aspects of digital transformation across three pillars of Administration, Training, and Research. Noteworthy was the university’s pioneering efforts in preparing for the future, including plans for big data utilization to create datasets for research and administration, as well as the anticipation of utilizing ChatGPT to support students and staff.
The awareness that came though the Immersion forum was complemented by the work done by the MBA students. Following extensive review of frameworks related to DX and digital competencies and with the help of funding from the Turing programme, the student team spent a month in Viet Nam, working with Vietnamese students from the partner organisations for developing a vision board of digital transformation that captures the views of the younger generation in Viet Nam. The work captured on padlets is insightful of the perspectives of the BUV, UEH and TVU students.
We are currently to commence another major stage in the project: the assessment of the digital maturity of the Vietnamese partners. Milena Bobeva and Geli Roushan are in Vietnam for the first assessment session that will be run with BUV senior management team on the 17 October 2023. More details on the outcomes from this stage and how it impacts on institutional decision making and beyond are to follow.
The partners are committed to embracing digital transformation and managing the transition smoothly and effectively, and though collaboration with their own partnership networks and the British Council UKVN Higher Education Network, to positively influence the DX journey across Vietnamese Higher Education.
When and how humans first settled in the Americas is a subject of considerable controversy. In the 20th century, archaeologists believed that humans reached the North American interior no earlier than around 14,000 years ago.
But our new research found something different. Our latest study supports the view that people were in America about 23,000 years ago.
The 20th century experts thought the appearance of humans had coincided with the formation of an ice-free corridor between two immense ice sheets straddling what’s now Canada and the northern US. According to this idea, the corridor, caused by melting at the end of the last Ice Age, allowed humans to trek from Alaska into the heart of North America.
Gradually, this orthodoxy crumbled. In recent decades, dates for the earliest evidence of people have crept back from 14,000 years ago to 16,000 years ago. This is still consistent with humans only reaching the Americas as the last Ice Age was ending.
In September 2021, we published a paper in Science that dated fossil footprints uncovered in New Mexico to around 23,000 years ago – the height of the last Ice Age. They were made by a group of people passing by an ancient lake near what’s now White Sands. The discovery added 7,000 years to the record of humans on the continent, rewriting American prehistory.
If humans were in America at the height of the last Ice Age, either the ice posed few barriers to their passage, or humans had been there for much longer. Perhaps they had reached the continent during an earlier period of melting.
Our conclusions were criticised, however we have now published evidence confirming the early dates.
Dating the pollen
For many people, the word pollen conjures up a summer of allergies, sneezing and misery. But fossilised pollen can be a powerful scientific tool.
In our 2021 study, we carried out radiocarbon dating on common ditch grass seeds found in sediment layers above and below where the footprints were found. Radiocarbon dating is based on how a particular form – called an isotope – of carbon (carbon-14) undergoes radioactive decay in organisms that have died within the last 50,000 years.
Some researchers claimed that the radiocarbon dates in our 2021 research were too old because they were subject to something called the “hard water” effect. Water contains carbonate salts and therefore carbon. Hard water is groundwater that has been isolated from the atmosphere for some period of time, meaning that some of its carbon-14 has already undergone radioactive decay.
Common ditch grass is an aquatic plant and the critics said seeds from this plant could have consumed old water, scrambling the dates in a way that made them seem older than they were.
It’s quite right that they raised this issue. This is the way that science should proceed, with claim and counter-claim.
How did we test our claim?
Radiocarbon dating is robust and well understood. You can date any type of organic matter in this way as long as you have enough of it. So two members of our team, Kathleen Springer and Jeff Pigati of the United States Geological Survey set out to date the pollen grains. However, pollen grains are really small, typically about 0.005 millimetres in diameter, so you need lots of them.
This posed a formidable challenge: you need thousands of them to get enough carbon to date something. In fact, you need 70,000 grains or more.
Medical science provided a remarkable solution to our conundrum. We used a technique called flow cytometry, which is more commonly used for counting and sampling individual human cells, to count and isolate fossil pollen for radiocarbon dating.
Flow cytometry uses the fluorescent properties of cells, stimulated by a laser. These cells move through a stream of liquid. Fluorescence causes a gate to open, allowing individual cells in the flow of liquid to be diverted, sampled, and concentrated.
We have pollen grains in all sediment layers between the footprints at White Sands, which allows us to date them. The key advantage of having so much pollen is that you can pick plants like pine trees that are not affected by old water. Our samples were processed to concentrate the pollen within them using flow cytometry.
After a year or more of labour intensive and expensive laboratory work, we were rewarded with dates based on pine pollen that validated the original chronology of the footprints. They also showed that old water effects were absent at this site.
The pollen also allowed us to reconstruct vegetation that was growing when people made the footprints. We got exactly the kinds of plants we would expect to have been there during the Ice Age in New Mexico.
We also used a different dating technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) as an independent check. OSL relies on the accumulation of energy within buried grains of quartz over time. This energy comes from the background radiation that’s all around us.
The more energy we find, the older we can assume the quartz grains are. This energy is released when the quartz is exposed to light, so what you are dating is the last time the quartz grains saw sunlight.
To sample the buried quartz, you drive metal tubes into the sediment and remove them carefully to avoid exposing them to light. Taking quartz grains from the centre of the tube, you expose them to light in the lab and measure the light emitted by grains. This reveals their age. The dates from OSL supported those we got using other techniques.
The humble pollen grain and some marvellous medical technology helped us confirm the dates the footprints were made, and when people reached the Americas.
We’re hosting a range of free events as part of the nationwide ESRC Festival of Social Science – covering everything from how your body reacts to cold water, to the right to roam, and a social history of ska and Two-Tone music in Dorset.
The events take place between 25 October and 15 November as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, which offers an insight into some of the country’s leading social science research and how it influences our lives.
BU has partnered with the University of Southampton for this year’s festival and will jointly host two events exploring the challenges and benefits around extending the right to roam, focusing on the New Forest and Bournemouth’s coastline.
Other events include an exhibition at the Dolphin Centre in Poole, showcasing the stories and photography of people involved in a research project to tackle obesity and unemployment, and an online event discussing the myths, misconceptions and lived experiences of long-COVID.
The UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) is the representative body for postgraduate education and research. As BU is a member of the UKCGE, staff can attend online events free of charge.
The following online events are coming up in the next few months and may be of interest to research degree supervisors and academic and professional staff who support our PGRs:
Date, Time & Book
Supporting Neurodivergent PGRs
The online discussion session will examine issues surround how best to support neurodivergent PGRs. Attendees will also have opportunity to share and discuss challenges & successes in supporting neurodivergent PGRs in their own institutions.
Administrative Milestones to Support On-Time Completion
This online Town Hall discussion will focus on ways to improve completion rates amongst PGRs. Using a new initiative at the University of Sheffield as a starting point, attendees will have to opportunity to discuss & share challenges & successes in instigating administrative processes to support PGRs & their supervisors to completion.
Administrative Checks for Examiners of Vivas: Right to Work Checks and Other Challenges
This online discussion will examine some of the administrative issues faced by institutions in ensuring that examiners of vivas are appointed in an appropriate manner. For example a number of institutions have reported challenges with right to work checks for viva examiners. This discussion, led by the University of Westminster and held under the Chatham House rule, will allow colleagues from across the sector to share and discuss their own, and other institutions’, approaches in this area.
Around the world, natural history museums hold a treasure trove of knowledge about Earth’s animals. But much of the precious information is sealed off to genetic scientists because formalin, the chemical often used to preserve specimens, damages DNA and makes sequences hard to recover.
However, recent advances in DNA extraction techniques mean that biologists can study the genetic code of old museum specimens, which include extremely rare or even recently extinct species. We harnessed this new technology to study a snake from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe that was run over in 1982, and discovered it was a new species. Our research was recently published in PLOS One.
Here, a mysterious population of snakes first drew the attention of scientists around 1920. An unusual snake displaying a cobra-like defensive hooding posture was spotted in the grounds of Cecil Rhodes’ (prime minister of the Cape Colony in the late 19th century) Inyanga Estate in Nyanga.
This snake had unusual markings with red skin between its scales, creating the effect of black dots on a red background when its hood is extended. None of the other cobras found in the area match this description.
More snakes like this were reported in the 1950s, but no specimens were collected.
A rare find
The mystery surrounding these sightings piqued the interest of the late Donald G. Broadley, now considered to be the most eminent herpetologist (reptile and amphibian expert) of southern Africa. In 1961, Broadley was given some severed snake heads and identified the mystery snake as a rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus), a species otherwise only found in South Africa, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) and Lesotho.
A handful of specimens were observed and measured in later years, but the landscape has been drastically altered by forestry. The rinkhals from Zimbabwe has not been seen in the wild since 1988 and is feared to be extinct.
This population lives 700km away from other, more southerly populations, which made us suspect it may be a separate species. But the genetic material contained within the specimen from Zimbabwe was degraded, meaning we couldn’t do the DNA studies needed to confirm whether it is a different species from other rinkhals.
However, the latest DNA extraction and sequencing methods have been developed over the last ten years to help biologists study the remains of ancient animals. We used the new techniques to examine the Zimbabwe rinkhals specimen. Our study showed they represent a long-isolated population, highly distinct from the southern rinkhals populations.
Based on their genetic divergence from the other rinkhals, we estimate that the snakes in Zimbabwe diverged from their southern relatives 7-14 million years ago. Counting a snake’s scales can help identify what species it is. Subtle differences in scale counts, revealed by our analysis of other specimens, provided enough evidence to classify the Zimbabwe rinkhals as a new species, Hemachatus nyangensis, the Nyanga rinkhals.
The scientific name nyangensis means “from Nyanga” in Latin.
Hemachatus nyangensis has fangs modified to spit venom, although the behaviour was not reported from the few recorded interactions with humans. The closely related true cobras (genus Naja), some of which are known to spit venom, do so with the same specialised fangs that allow venom to be forced forwards through narrow slits, spraying it toward animals that are threatening them.
Venom in the eyes causes severe pain, may damage the eye, and can cause blindness if left untreated. Venom spitting appears to have evolved three times within the broader group of cobra-like snakes, once in the rinkhals, and twice in the true cobras in south-east Asia and in Africa.
A connection between human and snake evolution
Scientists think this defence mechanism may have evolved in response to the first hominins (our ancestors). Tool-using apes who walked upright would have posed a serious threat to the snakes, and the evolution of spitting in African cobras roughly coincides with when hominins split from chimpanzees and bonobos 7 million years ago.
Similarly, the venom spitting in Asian cobras is thought to have emerged around 2.5 million years ago, which is around the time the extinct human species Homo erectus would have become a threat to those species. Our study of Nyanga rinkhals suggests that the third time venom spitting evolved independently in snakes may also have coincided with the origin of upright-walking hominins.
If a living population of Nyanga rinkhals was found, fresh DNA samples would help us to more accurately determine the timing of the split between the two species of rinkhals and how this compares to hominin evolution. Technological advances may be giving us incredible insights into ancient animal lineages but they can’t make up for an extinction. We still hope a living population of Nyanga rinkhals will be found.
The possible relationship between venom spitting and our early ancestors is a reminder that we are part of the Earth’s ecosystem. Our own evolution is intertwined with that of other animals. When animals become extinct, we don’t just lose a species – they take part of our history with them.
We’re launching a new monthly blog series, The Month in Research – a round-up of some of our research and knowledge exchange successes from the previous month.
From successful funding bids to publications, events, and everything in between, we want to showcase and celebrate the amazing work taking place across BU.
The Month in Research will be published on the first Monday of every month, starting next month (November).
We want to hear from you – fill out our short form to share your achievements, or those of your colleagues, to be featured as part of the series. You can also find a link on the homepage of the research blog or scan the QR code below to be taken to the form.
Among the bill’s key aims is to ensure it is more difficult for young people (under the age of 18) to access content that is considered harmful – such as pornography and content that promotes suicide or eating disorders. It places a “duty of care” on tech companies to ensure their users, especially children, are safe online. And it aims to provide adults with greater control over the content they interact with, for example if they wish to avoid seeing sexual content.
The legislation puts the onus on service providers (such as social media companies and search engines) to enforce minimum age requirements, publish risk assessments, ensure young people cannot access harmful content (while still granting adults access) and remove illegal content such as self-harm and deepfake intimate images.
The government has said the new law will make the UK the “safest place to be online”, but this isn’t something that can happen overnight. Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, is in charge of turning the legislation into something they can actually regulate. By the regulator’s own calculations, this process will take months.
There are many who view the bill as poorly thought out, with potential overreach that could conflict with fundamental human rights. The Open Rights Group has raised serious concerns around privacy and freedom of expression.
The challenges of regulating the internet
There are also aspects of the bill that are, currently, technically impossible. For example, the expectation that platforms will inspect the content of private, end-to-end encrypted messages to ensure that there is no criminal activity (for example, sexual communication with children) on their platforms – this cannot be done without violating the privacy afforded by these technologies.
If platforms are expected to provide “back doors” to technology designed to ensure that communications are private, they may contradict privacy and human rights law. At present, there is no way to grant some people access to encrypted communications without weakening the security of the communications for everyone. Some platforms have said they will leave the UK if such erosions in encryption are enacted.
There is a rich history of governments wrongly assuming encryption can be accessed that is not being reflected upon in current debates.
Furthermore, age verification and estimation technology is not yet foolproof, or indeed accurate enough to determine someone’s exact age. Yoti, a leading age verification and estimation technology provider has stated that their technology could correctly predict a user aged 13-17 being “under 25” 99.9% of the time. It’s entirely possible that many young adults would be falsely identified as being minors – which might prevent them from accessing legal content. There have been previous attempts to legislate age verification for pornography providers (such as in the 2017 Digital Economy Act), which the UK repealed due to the complexities of implementation.
While technology continues to develop, it seems unlikely there will be perfect implementations anytime soon for these issues.
What is ‘harmful’ content?
The other major argument against the bill is that, even with the best of intentions, the protections designed to keep children safe could have a chilling impact on freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Previous versions of the bill placed expectations on platforms to explicitly tackle “legal but harmful” content for adults. This was defined at the time as content that would be viewed as offensive by a “reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities”. While these provisions are now removed, there is still a great deal of intangibility around what it means to protect children from “harmful” content.
Outside of illegal content, who decides what is harmful?
Platforms will be expected to make rules around content they deem might be harmful to certain users, and censor it before it can be published. As a result, this might also prevent children from accessing information related to gender and sexuality that could be caught up in the filtering and monitoring systems platforms will put in place. Without a clear definition of what harmful content is, it will be down to platforms to guess – and with moving goalposts, depending on the government of the day.
What would actually make the internet safe?
As someone who researches the ethics of technology and the habits of young people online, my concern is that this bill will be viewed as the solution to online harms – it clearly is not.
These measures, if effectively implemented, will make it more difficult for young people to stumble across content meant for adults, but they will not prevent the determined teenager. Furthermore, a lot of intimate content shared by young people is shared between peers and not accessed via platforms, so this legislation will do nothing to tackle this.
I often to speak to young people about what help they would like to be safer online. They rarely ask for risk assessments and age verification technologies – they want better education and more informed adults to help them when things go wrong. Far better, young people tell me, to provide people with the knowledge to understand the risks, and how to mitigate them, rather than demanding they are stopped by the platforms.
I am reminded of a quote from the American cybersecurity researcher Marcus Ranum: “You can’t solve social problems with software.”
The difference Bournemouth University’s research, education and expertise makes to society has been recognised through the third Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) exercise.
The KEF is released annually by Research England and aims to increase efficiency and effectiveness in public funding for knowledge exchange and to encourage universities to understand and improve on their performance.
BU’s performance in the third KEF demonstrates several areas of strength, including our research partnerships, working with business, and local growth and regeneration.
Our work with health and care providers, including partnerships with University Hospitals Dorset (UHD) and Dorset Healthcare, supports initiatives across research, education and practice in the region, helping people to live better for longer.
BU also supports business and entrepreneurship across the region. Around 60 SME owners have so far participated in the university’s Help to Grow: Management Programme while BU’s Eco-Entrepreneurs Fund, delivered in partnership with Santander, has supported BU students and graduates to develop businesses which address the climate and ecological crisis.
As well as regional engagement, the university works with communities and organisations on a national and international level – such as the Disaster Management Centre, which is assisting communities globally, including in Sierra Leone, in crisis preparedness and recovery.
Professor Keith Phalp, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Bournemouth University, said: “We are proud to be a catalyst for growth, using our skills and expertise to support our region and enrich society.
“The KEF provides an opportunity to assess our progress in knowledge exchange and the impact of our work. It is great to recognise the contribution of our staff, students and graduates in supporting this work on a regional, national, and international scale and making a real difference to the world around us.”
The results of the KEF have been published in the form of institutional dashboards, with institutions measured against seven perspectives – including working with businesses, the public and the third sector; intellectual property and commercialisation; and public and community engagement.
In recognition of the fact that universities have different areas of expertise and work in regions with different needs, all universities in England have been placed into different clusters according to their expertise, size and research activity.
BU is in Cluster E, alongside other large universities with a broad range of disciplines generating research. Other universities in the cluster include Oxford Brookes University, Nottingham Trent University, and Portsmouth University.
Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Executive Chair of Research England, said: “Across the breadth of higher education, institutions make rich and diverse contributions to the economy and society through their knowledge exchange activities.
“The KEF continues to be a powerful tool to describe the breadth of scope of knowledge exchange. It also provides important evidence of different university strengths through peer group comparisons.”
For many women, adult diagnoses of autism are “a light in the darkness”, an epiphany of self-understanding. My “lightbulb moment” came in my late 20s. “They thought you were autistic,” my mum mused when I told her I was embarking on an academic career in autism research.
As a child, I was painfully aware of being different. The adults and the children around me had noticed my strangeness, my inability to fit in. It turned out that autism had been suggested to my mother – but then dismissed by a child psychiatrist. I didn’t fit what was known about autism. Although socially gauche, I’d mastered eye contact and was fairly eloquent.
A few years after my mum had made that off-the-cuff comment, I was re-evaluating my life in the context of a shiny new diagnosis.
Researchers are learning more and more about the way autism differs in people of different sexes and genders. As they do so, the lights are coming on for more of us who’ve felt lost in the world.
The female face of autism
There is no one type of autistic person. The key features of autism – differences in the way we think, communicate and interact with others – show up in more diverse and subtle ways than the limited examples suggested by the diagnostic criteria. This is often true in autistic girls.
This article is part of Women’s Health Matters, a series about the health and wellbeing of women and girls around the world. From menopause to miscarriage, pleasure to pain the articles in this series will delve into the full spectrum of women’s health issues to provide valuable information, insights and resources for women of all ages.
While they struggle with social understanding, many autistic girls are adept mimics of the social behaviour of other people. In the way they speak and the things they talk about, they are more similar to neurotypical children than autistic boys are. This may explain why, on first impression, people tend to underestimate autistic girls’ difficulties.
In comparison to autistic boys, the conversation of autistic girls tends to be more social in nature, focusing more on the people and friendship groups around them. Their interests tend to be more social, involving fictional characters, animals or celebrities rather than non-living objects. Tellingly, they express greater longing for the friendships and relationships which often elude them.
As they grow, some girls learn scripts to use in social situations, and develop a passive way of behaving with others that focuses on making the other person feel comfortable. Many autistic girls and women engage in this kind of “social camouflaging” constantly in order to seem acceptable to others.
Undiagnosed autistic people are often painfully aware of their inability to fit in and to do the things that others do easily. If no one gives you an explanation, you’re left to find one yourself.
I knew as a teenager that I must be fundamentally bad, since I was bullied and had no friends at school. Autistic people I’ve worked with in my research have similarly blamed themselves for a lifetime of struggling and being abused, pinning these things on personal failings.
Across research studies, we late-diagnosed autistics are that societal subgroup with a history of academic struggles, employment problems, mental illness and relationship breakdowns. Our self-narratives are ones of inadequacy and failure.
Research has found that autistic girls and women have poorer mental health than autistic men. So are people who are diagnosed later in life compared to those diagnosed when young. These two facts are almost certainly interrelated. Autistic children who grow up without a diagnosis are unlikely to receive appropriate support. What’s more, they’re less likely to be viewed with compassion when they struggle.
Recognition of autism in girls and women may come at a crisis point. For some, this occurs in the pubertal chaos and complex social world of adolescence, where rates of anxiety and depression climb steeply in autistic girls. For some, it happens in the world-rocking turmoil of menopause, which appears to derail the coping skills and social camouflage that undiagnosed people rely on.
Beyond diagnosis, there are other ways that autistic girls and women face greater challenges than boys and men. While women generally suffer higher rates of sexual abuse, this risk is even higher for autistic women.
Autistic women often find their difficulties are poorly understood by employers, and must also contend with gendered pressures to perform emotional labour at work – taking on the unpaid and implicit responsibility to look after the emotions of others – or face damage to their reputation.
For we lucky women who got there in the end, a discovered autistic identity can be a life-changing gift. Finding ourselves means finding each other, release from self-blame and a new sense of belonging.
Whether you are a new supervisor, you plan to be one, or you have experience but are new to Bournemouth University, this development workshop is for you.
The workshop, which is mandatory for new supervisors, offers the necessary knowledge to supervise Postgraduate Research students by placing this knowledge within both the internal and external regulatory framework.
This workshop will cover the following key areas:
The nature and scope of doctoral study and the role of a supervisor
Purpose and operation of the BU Code of Practice for Research Degrees
Monitoring, progression, completion and the process of research degrees at BU
The importance of diversity, equality and cultural awareness
Student recruitment and selection
Keeping students on track – motivation and guidance
Book your place onto one of the Doctoral Supervision: New Supervisors Development workshops below. Further details about this workshop can also be found on the staff intranet.
The presenter, comedian and actor Russell Brand is at the centre of a joint investigation by The Times, The Sunday Times and Channel 4 Dispatches, which has reported allegations of abuse made against him by four women, which include emotional abuse, sexual assault and rape. Brand has denied these allegations, saying his relationships have been “always consensual”, and they have not been tested in any court of law. However, this investigation focuses attention on a problem at the heart of the culture of the UK’s television industry.
According to the investigation, many of the allegations were borne out of what TV industry insiders describe as a working culture that tolerates, even facilitates, the abuse of power by its “talent”. A runner on one of Brand’s shows, interviewed for the Channel 4 film, recalls a colleague’s response on hearing of Brand’s behaviour: “Girls, girls. You know, it’s what happens with the talent. Boys will be boys.”
These allegations are only the most recent in a seemingly endless stream of high-profile incidents dating back to 2012 and the uncovering of historic abuse by the broadcaster Jimmy Savile. This scandal is clearly referenced in Dispatches’ documentary’s title, Russell Brand: In Plain Sight (Savile was described across the media at the time as having hidden “in plain sight”).
There have been many efforts at industry reform since 2012. However, we continue to see regular revelations of alleged bad behaviour – from accusations levelled at staff at Gogglebox to complaints recently made about TV chef James Martin.
A staggering 93% of respondents had experienced or witnessed bullying or harassment at work during their careers. The Film and Television Charity’s 2022 report on mental health in the industry supports these findings, with nearly half of respondents reporting personal experience of bullying, harassment or discrimination in the previous 12 months.
Brand may or may not ultimately be found to be a “bad apple” but he’s prominent in an industry where such alleged cases, as recent interviewees in the media have attested to, are often open secrets and accepted as part of the nature of the work.
Bullying and abuse as systemic problems in UK television
Our research suggests that the problem is structural and systemic.
Research in organisational behaviour shows that certain characteristics of work increase the likelihood of bad behaviour. It is more likely to happen where workloads are high and mentally demanding. It is more likely where roles are not well-defined or where people are constantly asked to balance conflicting demands.
It is common where teams are working under pressure to tight schedules, where lines of communication are unclear and critically where job insecurity makes workers reluctant to report concerns. All of these circumstances characterise current working conditions in UK television.
Over the past two or three years various mechanisms have been introduced to encourage the reporting of unacceptable behaviour and the abuse of power in the television industry. A new bullying watchdog, the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA), is currently refining its brief before a planned launch next year.
Arising out of the work of Time’s Up UK, which campaigns against discrimination and sexism in the workplace, this is certainly a welcome development. However, it does little to tackle the underlying structural issues, including the culture of fear that enables serial abusers.
The TV executive quoted as dismissing staff concerns in the Dispatches film was not unusual in her attitude. The kind of work environment in which bullies and abusers feel able to operate with impunity – and victims feel disempowered – is common.
Industry insiders claim that Brand’s activities were an “open secret” and that staff were “basically acting as pimps” for him, being expected to provide his contact details to women in his studio audiences.
Multiple complaints from crew members reportedly went unheeded. It is also claimed that in a development meeting for a new show, when the issue of his behaviour toward female crew was raised, one producer’s suggestion was to use an all-male crew – an idea which could potentially be putting female professionals out of work.
The investigation suggests that the alleged way in which Brand’s behaviour was tolerated by successive employers effectively gave the star permission to abuse the women around him. In a Guardian review of the Channel 4 documentary, Jack Seale accurately identified a “collective culpability that resonates well beyond whatever one man might have done”.
In our written evidence to the culture, media and sport parliamentary select committee this week, we are proposing an industry-wide code of practice to support good work and employment arrangements. We also hope to discourage the use of exploitative and unethical ways of working.
There needs to be a clear-cut way for staff to report bullying and harassment. And managers need to be made aware of their legal and ethical responsibilities in caring for their staff.
We hope that the film and television industries can set a positive example for the wider creative industries, where similar problems are reported. Fundamental changes are needed now and the industry cannot remain the sort of environment that facilitates bullying and harassment, moving from one scandal to the next.
These allegations are a wake-up call. The TV industry cannot continue the way it has.
The UK Prime Minister’s recent decision to delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars until 2035 has brought into focus the trajectory of carbon emissions in the country. In this article, we will analyse available data, current trends, and sectoral dynamics to make an informed forecast of UK carbon emissions for the next 5 to 10 years.
In 2022, the UK saw a 2.4% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to 2021, and total greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.2%. These figures indicate progress towards the nation’s climate goals.
Quarterly emissions data for 2022 showed varying trends, with transport emissions surging by 23.2% in Q1 but overall reductions in subsequent quarters.
The transport sector, particularly road transport, played a significant role in emissions trends, accounting for 34.0% of territorial CO2 emissions in 2022.
Historically, emissions from the transport sector had shown a pattern of growth until 2019, driven by factors like increased vehicle kilometres travelled and improved vehicle fuel efficiency.
While making precise forecasts is challenging, we can make informed projections based on the data and trends available:
Transport Sector: Given the recent surge in transport emissions in Q1 2022, it is likely that this sector will remain a critical focus in the coming years. To make accurate predictions, factors such as the adoption of electric vehicles, investment in public transportation, and government policies will need to be considered. An optimistic scenario sees a gradual decrease in emissions due to EV adoption and policy interventions. However, without robust measures, emissions may remain volatile.
Residential Sector: The residential sector’s emissions were sensitive to temperature variations in 2022. If temperature trends continue, emissions could remain stable. However, long-term reductions will depend on energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy adoption in homes.
Energy Supply and Public Sectors: These sectors experienced increases in emissions in Q2 2022. Ensuring a transition to cleaner energy sources and promoting energy conservation will be crucial in mitigating emissions from these sectors.
Quarterly Fluctuations: Seasonal fluctuations are expected to continue, with milder weather reducing heating demands and contributing to lower emissions in certain quarters.
Long-Term Goals: The UK’s ambitious net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050 will continue to drive policy changes, investment in green technologies, and efforts to reduce emissions across all sectors.
Forecasted Trends (2023-2032):
Drawing from the available data and our analysis, we can outline the following forecasted trends for UK carbon emissions in the next 5 to 10 years:
Transport Sector: While fluctuations may persist, increased adoption of electric vehicles and stricter emissions regulations are expected to gradually reduce emissions. A targeted effort to improve public transportation infrastructure will also play a role.
Residential Sector: Emissions in this sector are likely to remain stable, with variations influenced by weather patterns. Continued incentives for energy-efficient homes and renewable energy sources will support long-term reductions.
Energy Supply and Public Sectors: Policy emphasis on clean energy and conservation measures should gradually decrease emissions in these sectors.
Quarterly Fluctuations: Seasonal variations will persist, but temperature-adjusted data may reveal more consistent trends.
Forecasting carbon emissions for the next 5 to 10 years is a complex endeavour, contingent upon multifaceted factors. The UK’s journey toward a greener future hinges on government policies, technological advancements, and economic conditions. Sustainable reductions in emissions demand continued dedication, particularly in the transport sector, and significant investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and public transportation.
The path to a lower-carbon future for the UK will be determined by its ability to harmonize economic growth with environmental stewardship.
Note: This forecast is based on available data and trends, offering a general projection subject to modification in response to evolving circumstances and policies.
This week is UK Postdoc Appreciation Week and we are celebrating and showcasing the achievements of our postdoctoral researchers and their important contribution to research at BU.
Today’s post is by Anastasia Vayona, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Social Science and Policy, about her research journey to date…
Confucius said, “Find something you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. I admit it took me a while (!) but I finally got there…
Being a Postdoc has proven to be the most fulfilling career choice that I have made to date. I am working on things that I am passionate about with people who share the same passion and interest.
I started my professional career as a Landscape Architect who was always interested in sustainability and the societal aspects of designing for people and through that I got exposed to the concept of Circular Economy. It was the Eureka moment for me, I developed an appetite for further research and explored the societal aspects of Circular Economy, so I pursued a doctorate on the subject. I was fortunate to work on EU-funded projects along with my studies and got to meet like-minded scholars and further develop my knowledge and interests.
Anastasia Vayona presenting her research into the circular economy
I have recently been given the opportunity to work as Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Social Science & Policy, at the Faculty of Science and Technology. I am one of the 4 postdocs working on the Research Capacity Transformation Scheme (RCaTS): Resolving the extinction crisis: sustainable and technological solutions for biodiversity and society project, along with academics from Life and Environmental Sciences and the Business School.
This role has allowed me to work with an interdisciplinary team of colleagues and academics on a series of different projects, all involving biodiversity and society. As a social scientist, I constantly explore new ways of involving society in practice and broadening the consumer/ residence/ human understanding of issues that involve sustainability and their livelihood.
Being a postdoc is an important first step of an academic career. It provides one with a relatively high degree of freedom to pursue their research interests – free from the pressure of completing and submitting their PhD thesis! It gives one the luxury to dedicate their time wholly on research and pump their research skills during the outset of their career. In the six months I have been in my current post, I managed to publish three papers and I am in the process of preparing a further five at the time of writing.
However, a postdoc role is not permanent by design, so it also comes with some degree of job insecurity and anxiety: time is ticking, and you need to deliver outputs that will showcase your capabilities and competency as a researcher.
Being an all-rounded researcher involves building and mastering a wide range of competencies – not just the obvious skill of writing scientific papers, but also understanding and participating in funded research (both pre and post award), gaining research independence by working with colleagues within and outside your institution, participating in supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate student projects, and of course teaching, through the delivery of targeted, guest lectures showcasing your research.
This complex and challenging landscape was one of the reasons I volunteered for the role of institutional Research Staff Association (RSA) representative, where I aspire to make a difference through working together with other members of the university to produce an actionable plan for supporting early career researchers in navigating through the various options, opportunities, expectations and responsibilities.
When I started this journey, I could only dream of what I have succeeded to date but now I am grateful for what I have achieved; I am thankful to all the people who helped me through the journey so far and look forward to the future.
Thank you to everybody who has shared their experiences as part of Postdoc Appreciation Week – and thank you to our postdocs for all you do, this week and every week, to support research at BU.
You can get involved on social media during Postdoc Appreciation Week by using #LovePostdocs and #NPAW2023 on Twitter and Instagram and tagging us @BU_Research or @UK_NPAW.
Joe Biden has come out fighting against perceptions that he is handling the US economy badly. During an address in Maryland, the president contrasted Bidenomics with Trumpian “MAGAnomics” that would involve tax-cutting and spending reductions. He decried trickle-down policies that had, “shipped jobs overseas, hollowed out communities and produced soaring deficits”.
Changing voters’ minds about the economy is one of Biden’s biggest challenges ahead of the 2024 election. Recent polling data suggested 63% of Americans are negative on the US economy, while 45% said their financial situation had deteriorated in the last two years.
Voters are also downbeat about Biden. In a recent CNN poll, almost 75% of respondents were “seriously” concerned about his mental and physical competence. Even 60% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning respondents were “seriously” concerned he would lose in 2024.
This appears a great opportunity for Donald Trump. He’s the clear favourite amongst Republican voters for their nomination, assuming recent indictments don’t thwart his ambitions.
Trump won in 2016 by capitalising on Americans’ economic discontent. Globalisation is estimated to have seen 5.5 million well paid, unionised US manufacturing jobs lost between 2000 and 2017. The “small-government” approach since the days of Ronald Reagan also exacerbated inequality, with only the top 20% of earners seeing their GDP share rise from 1980-2016.
Trump duly promised to retreat from globalisation and prioritise domestic growth and job creation. “Make America Great Again” resonated with many voters, especially in swing manufacturing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Winning these “rust-belt” states was crucial to Trump’s success.
These will again be key battlegrounds in 2024, but the economic situation is somewhat different now. There may be more cause for Democrat optimism than the latest polls suggest.
What is Bidenomics?
When Biden won in 2020, he too recognised that the neoliberal version of US capitalism was failing ordinary Americans. His answer, repeated in his Maryland speech, is to grow the economy “from the middle out and the bottom up”. To this end, Bidenomics is centred on three key pillars: smarter public investment, growing the middle class and promoting competition.
On investment, Biden’s approach fundamentally challenges the argument by the right that increasing public investment “crowds out” more efficient private investment. Bidenomics argues that targeted public investment will unlock private investment, delivering well paid jobs and growth.
Almost 80% of the US$485 billion (£390 billion) in IRA spending is on energy security and climate change investment, through tax credits, subsidies and incentives. Much of the investments announced into manufacturing electric cars, batteries and solar panels, and mining vital ingredients like cobalt and lithium, are in the rust belt.
Meanwhile, Biden’s 2022 Chips Act is a US$280 billion investment to bolster US independence in semiconductors. With both acts backing domestic investment, the strategy concedes Trump’s point that globalisation failed blue-collar America. This is underpinned by other protectionist measures such as Biden’s “buy American” policy.
A whole series of measures aim to boost the middle classes. These include increasing workers’ ability to collectively bargain, and widening the maximum earning threshold for workers entitled to overtime pay from US$35,000 to US$55,000 – taking in 3.6 million more workers. As for promoting competition, measures include banning employers from using non-compete clauses in employment contacts.
The results so far
It’s too early to judge these policies, but the US economy has been relatively impressive under Biden. Over 13 million new jobs have been created, though much of this can be perhaps attributed to workers resuming employment after COVID. Unemployment is below 4%, a 50-year low, though similar to what Trump achieved pre-COVID.
The federal deficit, the annual difference between income and outgoings, is heading in the wrong direction. It deteriorated under Trump, ballooned during COVID then partially bounced back, but is forecast to widen in 2023 to 5.9% of GDP or circa US$2 trillion.
Ratings agency Fitch recently downgraded the US credit rating from AAA to AA+. Fitch says the US public finances will worsen over the next three years because GDP will deteriorate and spending rise, and that the endless political battles over the US debt ceiling have eroded confidence.
Nonetheless, the other major ratings agencies have not made similar downgrades, and the widening deficit is mostly not because of Bidenomics. Tax receipts are substantially down because the markets have been less favourable to investors, while surging interest rates have increased US debt interest payments.
Overall, the economics signs are arguably moving in the right direction. An article co-written by business professor Jeffrey Sonnefeld from Yale University in the US, advisor to Democrat and Republican administrations, compares Bidenomics to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It argues:
The US economy is now pulling off what all the experts said was impossible: strong growth and record employment amidst plummeting inflation … the fruits of economic prosperity are inclusive and broad-based, amidst a renaissance in American manufacturing, investment and productivity.
The Democrats know they must make this case to win in 2024. To compound Biden’s Maryland speech, there are plans for an advertising blitz in key states. Of course, the party may yet back another candidate, if they are thought more likely to win – currently Biden and Trump are neck and neck.
One consolation to the Democrats is that voters’ gloom is partly related to interest rates, which are probably close to peaking. Anyway, recent polling suggesting voters view the economy as the paramount issue is arguably good news: it means that Republican efforts to shift the narrative towards the culture wars are less likely to win an election.
This week is UK Postdoc Appreciation Week and we are celebrating and showcasing the achievements of our postdoctoral researchers and their important contribution to research at BU.
Today’s post is by Dr Aralisa Shedden, who writes about her experiences as a postdoctoral researcher…
I am a terrestrial ecologist who aims to understand the emerging challenges for biodiversity conservation in a changing world. I obtained my BSc and my MSc at the University of Veracruz, Mexico. My MSc thesis investigated sustainable use of tropical forest fragments to enhance biodiversity conservation and how endangered species adapted to changes in their environment. I also worked as a Research Assistant at the Institute of Neuroethology, where I supported research development and management.
I was then invited to join the Center for Tropical Research at the University of Veracruz, where I worked as a Scientific Associate until 2012, when I began my PhD at Bournemouth University. I completed my PhD in 2016 and my thesis combined environmental, ecological and social data to rank the suitability of areas for conservation in a multi-user and multi-use landscape in Mexico. I explored using primates as flagship species to establish these conservation sites and also aimed to support decision making and planning in response to threats including agriculture and hunting.
After a five year break in my career due to full-time care responsibilities, I re-joined academia and began a Post Doctoral position at Bournemouth University working on a EU Horizon 2020 project called RESONATE that investigates how past and current site factors and management affect forest system resilience in different forest types and management systems across Europe.
I also continue to collaborate with colleagues from universities in Mexico and the U.S.A. on topics related to interactions between wildlife (e.g. jaguar and puma predation on primates), the effects of landscape transformation on animal health (e.g. increase in parasitism in animals living in human impacted forests) and enhancing our knowledge on how to tackle conservation issues in the tropics.
Through my applied research, I am driven to understand the intricate relationships between the need for economic growth in rural communities and the necessity for environmental conservation. I am interested in how species respond to changes in their ecosystems, ongoing climatic events and human pressures. With this knowledge, I aim to provide practical solutions for conservation under varying scenarios.
For me, the best part about being a post-doc has been learning new skills and being exposed to topics/concepts that I had not been involved with in my previous research. And worst thing about being a post-doc is it can be somewhat isolating and the learning curve can be steeper than expected, which can be quite challenging.
If you’d like to write a blog post to share your experiences, or show your appreciation for our postdoctoral researchers, please contact email@example.com. You can also get involved on social media during Postdoc Appreciation Week by using #LovePostdocs and #NPAW2023 on Twitter and Instagram and tagging us @BU_Research or @UK_NPAW.
These country-level investigations follow numerous examples of professional footballers being personally investigated for breaking betting rules. In 2022, Reading defender Kynan Isaac was handed a 12-year ban for placing illegal bets.
From the outside it might seem strange that well-paid athletes who seemingly have everything might risk it all in this way. Those who are eventually found guilty can be fined, suspended from playing the sport or even banned for life.
As yet not much is known about the benefits athletes get out of spot fixing, beyond payments from fixers, and researchers aren’t even sure if athletes always get payments direct from bookmakers. But it may not all be simply about money.
My previous research into why male professional athletes commit crime may help us understand why they would gamble their careers – the intense conditions of a professional athlete’s world can prime them for criminality.
Why do athletes do it?
Sport corruption cases have been on the on the increase around the world in recent years.
My study in sport and crime involved interviewing elite male athletes who have committed crimes, ranging from driving offences or drug possession, to importing drugs or grievous bodily harm.
I found the very characteristics that may have made them a good athlete may have also set them on the path to criminality. There are parallels between the core features of athletic excellence such as competitiveness, aggression, appetite for risk and assertion, and some of the traits that underpin criminal activities.
In some circumstances, an athlete may view crime as an intense and thrilling activity that fulfils their need for excitement and fuels their appetite for risk.
Some athletes viewed crime as a means to alleviate boredom, with players struggling to fill the void that was left when not competing or training. The thrill of the crime wasn’t necessarily an initial motivator but it was clearly a reason for repeated offences. As one athlete told me: “Some of those feelings, like feelings of elation and at times camaraderie as well, that I experienced on a football pitch, in a changing room… I got that from crime as well.”
Another athlete said: “There is a buzz of it … Anyone who tells you anything else is lying, it’s a buzz”.
Athletes in my study highlighted their susceptibility to temptation, their sense of invincibility and belief the rules did not apply to them and, in hindsight, their self-centredness. In psychology, these characteristics are linked with a type of behaviour called “terminal adolescence”, where they appear to not grow up because they don’t have to. Some athletes are so indulged they develop unrealistic views of themselves and a sense of invincibility commonly seen in adolescents.
A disregard for consequences was also clear. One participant said: “Of course there are consequences, of course there are people that go to jail, I know them, but I’m not going to get caught so I don’t have to think about that”.
Athletes may take part in crime because risky experiences can give people a sense of control in their largely constrained lives – it can help athletes escape from the restrictive nature of elite sport.
Negative sporting experiences influenced some atheletes’ criminal behaviour too. Rejection, failure and a belief that sporting bodies, coaches or fans are treating them unfairly can incite athletes to rebellion. For example, one professional boxer began a phase of going out with friends and taking drugs after he lost a match because he thought the outcome was unfair.
Substance misuse was also often a negative influence. The need for money to pay for drugs and increasing greed in general were given as reasons for these bouts of self-destructive behaviour.
What can be done?
Sport organisations need to ensure they know the backgrounds, and social pressures, that are inescapable for many athletes so they can protect them. Young athletes’ potential criminality is not always on the radar of coaches, but it needs to be. One of the athletes I interviewed did get pulled up by his coach who had realised what he was doing in his free time – and this was a changing point for him.
Participants in my study touched upon the pressure they felt to be successful and how they struggled with mental health. One athlete described how draining his sport could be, and how the intensity – combined with the pressure an athlete is constantly under to perform – was exhausting.
The destructive criminal behaviour may be self-inflicted but these athletes still need support. Failing to support an athlete who has committed a crime may well make things worse, as they struggle with the financial, social and emotional consequences of their actions.
The frequency of drug and alcohol misuse is also an influence on athletes committing crimes. Athletes were indifferent to the use of class B and C drugs, and the negative impact these drugs could have on their careers, or how these could result in a criminal record. Education should be extended to coaches about how to spot social drug use, as it was clear that athletes in this study were adept at hiding their substance misuse.
The experiences of athletes who have committed crimes can be used allow others to learn from their mistakes. Telling their stories will also enable those who have offended to give back to their sports, and give convicted athletes a focus for getting their careers in sport back on track.